Hopfenextract is said to be a plague in German brewing; it's very very common to come across "Hopfen, Hopfenextract" listed on the ingredient list of a German beer. This exposes how ludicrous the Reinheitsgebot is: how can something be (mis)labelled a "purity law" when it allows chemically reclaimed hop juice in it? German beer drinkers are often taken aback when this is pointed out to them.
It is still quite rare, however, to find a beer which doesn't actually contain any real hops at all, only the extract, but I came across one today.
Flensburger is not a brewery I had a particularly high opinion of, and putting a German cartoon character called Bölkstoff on the front of a beer and naming it after him didn't promise too much.
This is a "pure" hop extract beer. Sure enough it had the acidic, sharp, overly bitter taste that hop extract often imparts to a beer. Having said that, it wasn't all that bad and to be honest I would choose it over many Munich lagers I've had. At least it actually had some bitterness, although not the sort of bitterness you would choose.
Unfortunately I couldn't compare it to any other German beer as the small stock of 5 or 6 German bottles I had didn't include a single one which didn't have Hopfenextract in it. Shame on you, German brewers. To be honest you can't really blame them, it's just a vicious circle. If your competitors can shave 20c off the price of their beer by including hop extract, many German beer drinkers will go for it, so the alternative is to follow them or see your beer stranded on the supermarket shelves.
There aren't that many beers with a horse theme, so at least "Pferd & Reiter" from the Strubbe brewery in Belgium was original. This uses no hop extract, just hops. Unfortunately it didn't stop it from being very dull.
So which would I choose? The Bölkstoff any day.
Beer is a very complex drink, and trying to reduce it some simplistic "This ingredient: good beer, this ingredient: bad beer" leads you down the road which ends in statements such as "it was not possible to tell if the beer was real or not". There are far too many variables in beer to be able to come up with some simple checklists that will determine if a beer is worth drinking.
Although hop extracts are undoubtably a bad thing and impart an unpleasant sharpness, it's still possible to make a beer with nothing but hop extracts that is better than a beer without any. This is why all this "camra says this is real ale" shit is such a load of bollocks. We've all had shitty cask or bottle conditioned beers, and we've all had fantastic pasteurised and filtered beers. We should celebrate the diversity of beers rather than trying to gang up some beers against others.
Oh yeah I almost forgot the third beer: "Nessie Macqueen's" (I kid you not). I should have known better shouldn't I? It describes itself as a "Whisky malt red beer". My description: revolting alcopop tasting piss.